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 September 05, 2014
Hillary Clinton talks climate change, gas and exports to friendly energy crowd

 Hillary Clinton expounded on climate change, energy exports, natural gas drilling and green energy Thursday --- all while managing to play it safe.

At Sen. Harry Reid's National Clean Energy Summit, Clinton called climate change "the most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face as a nation and a world."

She also cited the potential benefits of producing and exporting natural gas and oil.

"Assuming that our production stays at the levels, or even as some predict, goes higher, I do think there's a play there," she said, noting it could help Europe and Asia amid continuing problems with Iran. "This is a great economic advantage, a competitive advantage, for us. ... We don't want to give that up."

But she also cautioned on the need for "triggers" around export policies, and holding sufficient energy reserves in order to protect American manufacturing jobs.

Similarly, she said natural gas can be a bridge to a greener economy but that "challenges" exist regarding methane leaks that contribute to global warming, and determining when and where to drill.

"The boom in domestic natural gas production is an example of American innovation changing the game," she said. "With the right safeguards in place, gas is cleaner than coal," she said, adding that expanding production also creates jobs.

"It's crucial that we put in place smart regulations and enforce them, including deciding not to drill when the risks are too high," she said. That includes regulations to capture and contain methane leaks.

And she complained that "tax incentives for alternative energy investments are unpredictable at best, while generous subsidies for fossil fuels are still too easy to come by."

Clinton said she and President Barack Obama "negotiated with nations around the world to begin phasing out these costly subsidies," she said.

"But I know we can do better," she added.

That includes targeted tax incentives, research and development and policies to "encourage rather than undercut clean renewable sources of energy" that will benefit new power plants, smarter grids and greener buildings.

"At this point, we actually know a lot of what actually works," she said.

Clinton, already seen as the likely Democratic front-runner in the presidential campaign in 2016, avoided divisive topics like the Keystone XL oil pipeline and any significant differences with Obama on climate and energy policy.

"She wasn't throwing any bombs. I wouldn't expect her to throw any bombs at this point," former Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope said. "This was not a campaign speech where [she] was attacking an opponent. This was a speech laying out her basic framework for approaching this issue. I was impressed."

Clinton complimented Obama's climate strategy and proposed EPA controls for power plants for having "put us in a strong position."

She recounted a story detailed in her memoir "Hard Choices" about the time she and Obama barged into a meeting between China's delegation and other world leaders in order to reach a compromise at the 2009 United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen. "The president and I literally had to crash a secret meeting," she told the audience at Reid's event.

In contrast to that meeting, it's hard to imagine a friendlier setting for Clinton to expound on her energy views than Thursday's summit at Mandalay Bay's cavernous convention center.

"When the history is written of the 20th and 21st century, there will be a special place for Hillary Clinton in the world leader category," Reid said in introducing her.

After her 22-minute speech, she chatted on stage with her husband's former White House chief of staff, John Podesta, who is also rumored to be the potential head of her 2016 presidential campaign if she does decide to run.

Podesta was just one of several people at Reid's event who have ties to either her previous presidential run, her husband's presidency or their current work on the Clinton Global Initiative. Others included Bill Clinton Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros and Neera Tanden, head of the Center for American Progress and former senior policy adviser to Hillary Clinton as first lady and during her 2000 Senate and 2008 presidential campaigns. Clinton Climate Initiative CEO Dymphia Van Der Lans also spoke on a panel.

Both friends and foes said it was a smart move to appear at Reid's event.

"I think there are multiple dimensions of today. There's climate change, which is a big and important issue. There's alternative energy, which is a big and important issue. There's Sen. Reid, who is a big and important person. And there's Nevada, which is a big and important primary," said Cisneros, who backed Clinton's 2008 presidential bid.

"It's smart for her to be closely aligned to [Reid] and his political team here in the state," Nevada GOP strategist Robert Uithoven said. "And I think being here for an energy conference is important for her as well because it ties into a Democratic base with a lot of the green energy discussion, but also to the economy."

Thanks to the strong Democratic advantage that Reid has built in the state, Clinton would be a front-runner there if she ran, Uithoven said. Democrats hold a 60,000 voting registration edge over Republicans in Nevada.

But Clinton has faced some negative press about her $250,000 fee for an upcoming October speech at the annual UNLV Foundation dinner --- which she donated to charity after it became public.

"So I think her October visit will be a little more of a challenge at least as far as the headlines are concerned than today's visit," Uithoven said.

The friendly audience was likely a welcome change after Clinton raised eyebrows recently in less controlled settings with her comments on foreign policy, immigration and her and her husband being "dead broke" when he left the presidency.

"It is the perils of being the 'front-runner' so early that people want you to speak on everything as if you were already in office or the candidate," Cisneros said. "So here she is, not a declared candidate, but expected to have formulated positions as if we were well into the campaign, and we're two years out plus."

Clinton won the popular vote in the 2008 Nevada Democratic caucus by drawing large number of women and Hispanic voters, despite the fact that Obama won endorsements from key political figures such as Reid.

Nevada was the first state that Cisneros --- who had waited until close friend, former Clinton administration colleague and fellow Latino Bill Richardson bowed out of the Democratic primary --- campaigned in for Clinton in 2008.

"I got a call one Thursday afternoon telling me that he was out of the race and that I needed to take a call from President Clinton. He called me on Thursday afternoon saying we need you in Nevada on Saturday, a week before the Nevada primary," Cisneros said.

"And I'm back in Nevada today. And I'd be back in a flash" if Clinton decides to run in 2016, he said.